Field force automation and mobile service orders are two huge buzzwords in the utility billing software arena these days. Are you considering equipping your field service technicians with mobile devices and automating your service order process?

If so, this issue takes a look at the process and examines some things you should know before moving forward.

Steps in the process

The process of automating service orders in the field involves three steps:

  • Dispatching
  • Completing in the field
  • Updating in the office

Dispatching is the process of transmitting a service order (or a group of service orders) electronically to a technician in the field. Think of it as the automated replacement of your field service staff coming into the office to pick up paper service orders and distributing them to the appropriate technician.

Completing a service order in the field is the electronic equivalent of writing the results on the paper service order. This includes any meter readings, comments, the date and time completed and who completed the service order.

Updating an electronic service order in the office is not unlike updating a paper service order. The big difference is the customer service clerk doesn’t have to read the technician’s handwriting and key everything in – it’s already in the system from what was entered in the field. All the customer service clerk needs to do is verify the readings are valid and check for anything that could cause a billing error.

Who provides the solution?

When selecting a mobile system to automate your field force, there are three sources of systems to be considered:

  • Billing software vendor
  • GIS vendor
  • Third party

If your billing software vendor offers an option for mobile service orders, it should, hopefully, be fully integrated with your billing software. This means it should be easy to implement.

A solution provided by your GIS vendor should have a strong interface to your GIS system, allowing your field staff to see maps in the field. Your billing system vendor may or may not have an interface to a system from your GIS vendor.

Third party solutions, by virtue of the fact they are designed and developed to operate by themselves, may have the best user interface of the three alternatives. However, they are also the most difficult to integrate with your billing system. Third party solutions are the best option for billing systems that offer no other way to implement field force automation.

What technology to use?

Apple, Android, Windows…? Tablet, laptop, phone…? With so many choices available, how do you know what technology to use? For starters, the hardware platform has to be compatible with the software application. Don’t go buy hardware before deciding on a software solution!

If you already provide a mobile platform for your field service technicians, and that platform is compatible with the software you choose, you’re in business! If not, you might have to purchase new mobile hardware for your field service staff.